Neurodiversity versus the medical model – why The Employables is the story we need to watch

For many years, conditions like autism and Tourette syndrome (as well as as ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia and more) have been classified as mental disorders and in need of medical, clinical intervention. 

But are they really?  When so many people in the human population have these conditions, shouldn’t we agree that they are a normal variation in the human species?  Do we need a clinical approach to ‘fixing people’ or do we need to make our environment less restrictive?

As a workplace psychologist, my training encouraged me to think about how different people gel with their environment rather than who is ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’.  Careers need a diversity in skill.  Not everyone has the visual skill to be a hairdresser, designer or surgeon. But those people might leave education unaware of how valuable they are because they didn’t fit in.

Consider autism. Hypersensitivity may lead to overwhelm is what we are currently prescribing.  But in a tribal community, wouldn’t it make sense for 1-2% to be incredibly sensitive to taste (poison) sound (approaching threats) vision (detailed construction) etc etc – you get my point.

Consider Tourette Syndrome, which co occurs with ADHD around 2/3 of the time and shares many attributes.  The extreme end that we see on TV is certainly disabling for individuals, but the uninhibited movements and thoughts are highly related to creativity, the ability to hyperfocus, high levels of alertness and quick responses.  Again, this seems like a great idea for a handful of humans in a typical grouping of 100-150.

In both autism and Tourettes, anxiety levels exacerbate what we call ‘symptoms’. Surely if people were in their natural environment, valued and included, the anxiety levels would reduce the ‘symptoms’? Would this switch a large proportion into feeling able, not disabled?  (disclaimer – I am a realist, I realise that’s not possible for all).

My favorite game is inventing medicalized terms for neurotypical traits.

Instead of people having ‘sensory processing disorder’, maybe everyone else has ‘under-reactive sensory deficits’.

Instead of ‘attention dysregulation’ (flipping between hyperfocus and unfocused) maybe others people have ‘inflexible attention syndrome’.

Instead of ‘concentration problems’, maybe others have ‘alertness deficiency syndrome’.

Instead of ‘routine obsession’, maybe others have ‘inconsistency syndrome’.

The medical model isn’t serving us.  We’re wasting human potential and disabling lives.

Time to focus on strengths, what people can do and acknowledge that the creativity and innovation required in our society and businesses requires a more dynamic, flexible approach.

The Industrial age is over, we no longer need to produce automatons who can all read, write, sit still for 8 hours and make eye contact.  In the armed forces, people are recruited for hyper-alertness. It’s only a disability if you have to concentrate in an open plan office all day.

Neurodiverse people aren’t weird, we don’t need fixing.  The world is weird and it needs our help. 

This is the message behind #TheEmployables and it is why I have worked my socks off to contribute to the show for three seasons now. I hope you enjoy!

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